"Four Vineyard Vignettes"

May 12 Picture.jpg


Right On The Mark    1 Peter 2:4-10 / Mark 12:1-12 


Today we honor all of our moms – both those present those that are not.  My mom always enjoyed the mother's day cards I gave, especially of the home-made variety, kinda like this one...  

Calvin: Hey Mom, wake up!  I made you a mother's day card!  

Mom: Why, how sweet of you! 

Calvin: I did it all by myself.  Go ahead and read it!  

Mom: “I was going to buy a card with hearts of pink and red, but then I thought I'd rather 

spend the money on me, instead.”    

“It's awfully hard to buy things when one's allowance is so small... 

Calvin: (...ahem...)  

Mom: ...so I guess you're pretty lucky I got you anything at all.” 

“Happy Mother's Day to you.  There, I said it.  Now I'm done.   So how' bout getting out 

of bed, and cooking breakfast for your son?”     I'm deeply moved. 

Calvin: Did you notice the part about my allowance?  

There.  We read it, and I'm sure all you moms here today are deeply moved by it as well...    

We've been reading from Mark's gospel, and came to the book's conclusion last week, but in order to get to Jesus' passion and resurrection by Holy Week we had to skip a few passages, a few Markan gems, along the way.  So for the next couple of months we're going to go back and take a look at those stories we skipped, starting with the stories Jesus himself told, called parables.  

Being the shortest and most concise of the four gospels, Mark contains the fewest parables – only four full length parables are found here, all of which are agricultural in nature.   We begin with the last of the four, known as the parable of the evil farmers, told during Jesus last week, in which he was confronted by the religious leaders in Jerusalem. When they question his authority, he tells this parable. 

It is perhaps the most vintage parable Jesus ever told, vintage in the sense that it borrows from and is inspired by an ancient biblical metaphor.  Though Mark's gospel is dated around 60 A.D., Jesus' parable of the evil farmers borrows from a prophetic song from the mid to late eighth century B.C.! 

That song is one of Four Biblical pericopes tied to this text: the Creation story in Genesis 2-3, the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5, Jesus' parable of the evil farmer here in Mark 16, and Jesus' teaching on the Vine and the Branches in John 15.    

In the creation story, three verses spring out of the text.  First this, “Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made.”  (Genesis 2:8) 

Next:“The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.” (2:15) 

And then: “When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden.  And the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'”  (Genesis 3:8) 


  Three insights we gain here: 1) It is God who made or prepared the garden; 2) God put the first man and woman in the garden to take care of it; 3) It is in the Garden that God made his presence known.  He asks where Adam is not because he doesn't know but because he misses his fellowship.  


Isaiah's Vineyard song goes like this: “Now I will sing for the one I love – a song about his vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a rich and fertile hill. He plowed the land, cleared its stones, and planted it with the best vines. In the middle he built a watchtower and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.  Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes, but the grapes that grew were bitter.”  

(Isaiah 5:1-2)

It concludes:“The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord.  The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.  He expected a crop of justice, but instead found oppression.  He expected to find righteousness, and instead he heard cries of violence.”   (Isaiah 5:7)

As you can hear, the vineyard song is one sad song.  From it we gain three insights: 1) It is God who prepared the vineyard; 2) the vineyard's fruit is bitter instead of sweet; and 3) the vineyard is none other that God's people.   This parable directly influences the one Jesus tells, that also begins with a detailed description of the owner preparing his vineyard by building and plowing.  

A summary of his parable might go like this: 1) It is God, the owner,who prepared the vineyard; 2) the fruit it produces is hoarded by the farmers; 3) The Son of the owner, whom the farmers rejected and killed, winds up being the hope for the vineyard, a cornerstone of God's love and grace. 

The fourth vignette is recorded in John's gospel which begins:'I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.  He prunes the branches that they may produce much fruit.'  (John 15:1-2)

A summary of this vineyard vignette might read like this: 1) It is God who prepares the vinyard; 2) the branches bear good fruit by staying connected to the Vine; 3) God's people are the branches who fulfill their purpose by producing much fruit and thereby bringing glory to God.  

By comparing these four vineyard vignettes side by side, five biblical insights come into view. The first comes from the premise that all four vignettes share – the vineyard is God's doing, it is God who prepares the vineyard for the purpose of producing sweet, loving fruit.  As with Isaiah's Vineyard Song, Jesus' parable of the evil farmers uses the vineyard as a metaphor for God's people and to convict them. The Vineyard vignettes reveal that we are here by God's hand and goodness, not to achieve status and acclaim, but to bring God glory by fulfilling the purpose for which we're put here!  

Jesus made clear this sense of purpose by pointing out what bearing fruit looks like: 'This is my command: Love each other as I've loved you.  For this purpose I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. So then, love each other'  

(John 15:12, 16-17)

Point one – God has prepared everything for us to give our lives purpose – to reflect his love...! 

Point two – the Vineyard vignettes reveal a biblical thread that point to how meticulously, lovingly God has worked out our salvation.  The fact that Jesus tells a parable that relies so heavily on a song from eight centuries prior to his ministry shows how Jesus' significance flows out of the Old Test-ament narrative – a narrative that showed how desperate God's people were for grace and purpose. 

Jesus understood how his story, how his ministry, was connected to these biblical threads of the past, how God walking in the garden foreshadowed his own walking among the vineyard that are the people of God.  Point two underscores the value of reading in the Old Testament as well as the New. 

Point Three:God's salvation plan is communal in character. That's not to undermine the personal element and call of the gospel.  We must each decide what we'll believe and how that will shape our present and our future.  But that being said, the Vineyard vignettes point to God's communal will. 


Isaiah's Vineyard Song is clear: “The nation of Israel is the vineyard....   The people are his pleasant garden.”  (Isaiah 5:7)  The plowing and clearing, planting and building, were all for the benefit of God's people collectively.  His prophets called the people back into their identity as a people. 

The prophet's final lament over injustice and oppression in that same verse, are behaviors that come about when we lose our sense of purpose and identity.  We Americans are particularly at risk. Built on the idealogies of individualism and pursuit of personal happiness, we lose sight of the calling to be a people.  It's one of the things the church uniquely offers – a place to reclaim a biblical view, a sense of higher purpose, and of belonging, of being a community, born from & living out God's grace!  

This communal aspect of our salvation is reflected in Don Piper's book, 90 Minutes In Heaven.  After being hit, head-on by an 18-wheeler on a rainy bridge, Don's spirit slipped out of his lifeless body as paramedics frantically cut him out of his car.  In his own words, this is what Don experienced next... 

“A light of intense brilliance enveloped me and the next thing I knew a large crowd of people was approaching me.  As they came forward, I knew instantly that all of them had died during my life-time.  They rushed toward me, and every person was smiling, shouting and praising God.  They seemed to have gathered there to welcome me.  Some hugged me, a few kissed my cheek while others pumped my hand.  Never had a I felt more loved.  More and more people reached for me, calling me by name.  I felt overwhelmed by the number of people who'd come to welcome me.  I saw friends from my youth, old school teachers, my grandfather as well as a host of others telling me how excited they were to see me and to welcome me to the fellowship they enjoyed.  Most of them hadn't known each other on earth, tho' each had influnced my life in some way, and yet they all seemed to know each other now!”  

(from Don Pieper's 90 Minutes In Heaven)  

Point three, God's salvation is communal in nature as is God himself. The Kgdm isn't a me thing its an us thing.  Point Four: Christ is the cornerstone of that salvation!  In his parable of the evil farmers the turning point in the story is unmistakeable: “there was only one left – the owner's son, whom he loved dearly.  The owner sent him to the farmers, thinking, 'surely they will respect my son.'”  

(Mark 12:6)

To clarify the significance of the farmers rejecting the owner's son, Jesus tags on a quote from one of King David's messianic psalms: “'The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.  This is the Lord's doing, and it is wonderful to see.'”   (Mark 12:10-11/Psalm 118:22)

Jesus uses ancient words to interpret present events.  Mixing his metaphors, he quotes Psalm 118 to reveal that he is the cornerstone David spoke of, he is the rock solid hope we have for finding the one thing we all long for deep down – to know and experience that we are loved unconditionally, with no strings attached, and to live in confidence that our lives truly, eternally matter!  

In the film, The Shack, a grieving, angry father has a conversation with God, who takes the form of a woman because Mack has father issues, and has forgotten what he was created for....

(DVD clip from the film, The Shack; 55:50 – 56:45)  

Later, Mack finds himself talking to Jesus about the Holy Spirit, and of God's love...

(DVD clip from the film, The Shack; 1:00:00 – 1:00:38) 

You, too, were created to be loved and in turn to love others. This is primarily what Jesus wants to share with you, demonstrate to you, and thru you, to those around you.  It sounds so simple but because of all the pain and confusion around and within us,  we forget...that we're at the center of God's love & purpose.  Making Jesus the cornerstone of your life means that becomes your life focus as well.


Point Four: Christ is the cornerstone of our salvation, because receiving and giving love is what we were created for!   Point Five: The Lord is looking for faithful farmers!  This truth is evident in all the Vineyard Vignettes such as in the closing of the parable of the evil farmers, whose authority over the Vineyard is taken from them and given to others...., those who will produce much fruit.  Point five is demonstrated in the other parables found in Mark so we'll explore that more next week...  

Suffice it to say, you are in the center of God's love and purpose, a purpose whose very foundation is God's chosen cornerstone – Jesus the Christ, who wants to teach you to fly!